Big Ten ditches good idea

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Last updated: 05/16/2012 0:12 AM
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Big Ten Gets Second Decent Idea in a Decade, Nixes It

By Tony Gerdeman

I am a firm believer that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany is always the smartest man in any room that he happens to be occupying. You don't sit atop the biggest money maker in college athletics for over twenty years if you don't know what you're doing.

A few years back, when he made his intentions to start the Big Ten Network known, he knowingly set college sports on a new path that has seen money roll in like waves heading for shore, with nothing but high tide on the horizon.

Success is so rampant that conference commissioners have to now apologetically light their cigars with hundred dollar bills while trying to maintain that everything is done with the student athlete in mind.

"I am only lighting this cigar with a hundred because it's a cleaner burning fuel source. I'm thinking about the kids! Plus, it was the only denomination I had in my pocket."

Long a playoff opponent, when Delany finally acquiesced about a college football playoff and started talking about wanting semifinal games played at campus sites, I was thrilled that such a good idea was coming from such an old-school "getoffmylawnian".

The idea made complete sense. Instead of forcing fans to travel to a conference championship game, and then a semifinal game, and then the championship game all in the span of a month, the semifinal game could be played at home, thereby relieving some travel stress on everyone involved, save for the road team of course.

The incentive of playing a game at home for a shot at a national championship bid would keep the importance of the regular season alive, and also bring something brand new to college football.

It was a grand idea and one that was embraced by many. At least it was until recently.

On Tuesday, the first day of a two-day session of Spring meetings between the Big Ten athletic directors and Delany, word came down that everyone was in favor of a four-team playoff, but that home playoff games were now off the table.

A conference that was days ago in favor of playoff games at on-campus venues was now opposed to it, and all it apparently took was for everybody to get into a room and convince themselves that they didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith admitted that he was in favor of the idea, and still waffles, but now realizes that playoffs are better contained to the bowl games.

"I've shifted to the bowls because of a lot operational factors more so than anything," he told ESPN.com in an interview.

That's right, apparently schools who host football games upwards of eight times per year aren't qualified to host football games. Who knew!?

But it wasn't just schools' inability to host games, which many have been doing since before anybody in that stuffy room was even born, there was also a concern about keeping a connection to the Rose Bowl.

Essentially, the Big Ten gave up the pursuit of home games in the playoffs to ensure that they could maintain a relationship with the Rose Bowl, and that that relationship would continue in any type of playoff proposal.

I really have no idea how one is related to the other. How can two extra home playoff games that have never been played before, and may not have anything to do with the Rose Bowl whatsoever, possibly interrupt a bowl game that has involved the Big Ten for over 60 years?

Basically, these two semifinal games wouldn't have to change anything when it comes to the bowl games. BCS bowl games could still pick teams to play, they just wouldn't be able to select the four teams participating in the playoffs.

But that would apparently be too much to ask.

"For me, it's critical to keep the Rose Bowl in the equation," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told AnnArbor.com. "There's a lot of historical value and there's a lot of future value to having the Rose Bowl connected with Michigan State, with Michigan, with the Big Ten Conference, and the home (game idea) takes that out."

Why? How? Will the Rose Bowl cease to exist if there are two extra games that never existed before now being played at on-campus sites?

I don't see how this is a possible result. Are they worried that the Rose Bowl might want to start seeing somebody else? Will they suddenly start "working late" and coming home at all hours? Will they eventually go down to the corner for a pack of cigarettes and then never come back?

"You never talk to us anymore, Rose Bowl. Do you still think we're pretty?"

All that would need to happen is for the Rose Bowl to select the highest-rated eligible Big Ten and Pac Twelve teams, like they always do. Problem solved. Nothing changes.

But then I shouldn't be looking for honesty or clarity here, because according to Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, playoff games at home sites doesn't just threaten the Rose Bowl, they threaten everything.

"The bowls have been good to us," Osborne told the Chicago Tribune. "If you took them out of the playoff, it would pretty much destroy the bowl system."

How do you even respond to that? Of course the bowls have been good to you. It's all you've ever known. I like bologna and Miracle Whip sandwiches because I grew up with them, but I've never ordered one at a restaurant. I know there are better things out there.

Either bowl games have value or they don't. If you are saying that three playoff games would end the bowl system—only two of which wouldn't be bowl games themselves, then you're also saying that bowl games really have no actual value. After all, if they had value, they could withstand a couple of playoff games.

There is only one BCS game right now that decides the national champion and yet there are more bowl games than ever before. Obviously, the number of championship-deciding bowl games is not directly proportional to bowl system health, and pretending that it is makes you look like you have bowl payola sticking out of your back pocket.

But I think my favorite reason for scrapping the idea of home playoff games comes from Hollis.

"From the kids’ perspective, the bowl experience is the one thing they want to keep in the equation," he said. "With campus sites, it becomes like a regular-season game."

Ah, the kids' perspective. Okay, I can't fault you for citing the players' desire to keep the bowl experience alive.

Or at least I couldn't if every Big Ten athletic director hadn't also agreed on Tuesday that teams should now have to win seven games to become bowl eligible. What about the kids' perspective on the 6-6 teams?

If that rule was in place last year, four of the ten teams that the conference sent to bowl games last season wouldn't have been eligible for a postseason game.

That means that approximately 400 players wouldn't have gotten to take part in any bowl experience, and instead would have been sent home.

And here I thought home was apparently no place to be.

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